Our next P-day had arrived. As Elder Balane and I got on our bikes to head to the school, I had the thought that I should bring some tissues.
“Hold on a minute,” I said, as I ran back into the apartment. I grabbed a pack of portable tissues and shoved them in the back pocket of my slacks. Elder Balane was already on his bike when I rejoined him outside. I quickly folded my right pant leg, stuffed it into my sock, and we were off. We pulled up to the school and parked our bikes in the usual spot in front of Manu’s classroom. As we locked our bikes together, Manu walked out of the building and greeted us with his signature bear hug and Aloha.
“How was school today?” I asked.
“It was another wonderful day with people I love,” Manu replied.
We piled into the truck and buckled in. As Manu settled behind the wheel, he chuckled softly. “There was a humorous story the third-grade teacher shared with me today,” he said. “Her class was learning about Martin Luther King, Jr., and she gave her class the assignment to complete the phrase, ‘I have a dream that one day. . .’ One of her students completed the assignment with, ‘I have a dream that one day handicapped people will be able to park wherever they want.’”
We all laughed. “I love being a teacher. Each day is a fun adventure,” he said.
After a couple of minutes of driving, Manu pulled into a cemetery. This was the shortest drive he’d taken us on so far. It was on the outskirts of Lāna‘i City. Manu drove slowly down the dirt roads of the cemetery. He turned down one of the rows and brought the truck to a stop.
“I come here at least once a week and, today, I thought I would have you join me,” Manu said. When he climbed out of the truck, he paused and reached under his seat. He pulled out a well-worn, leather scripture case. Then he grabbed a bright and colorful lei made of real flowers from the top of his dashboard. He settled the lei around his neck and smiled at us.
We followed Manu, who strode toward a white, marble headstone with the confidence of someone who’d been here many times. We stood back as Manu knelt in the red dirt that surrounded the grave. I felt a desire to kneel as well and lowered myself to my knees near the grave. As I began to pray for Manu, Elder Balane knelt next to me. When I finished my short prayer, I watched Manu continue to pray. After a couple of minutes, Manu remained kneeling but raised his head. He took the lei from his neck and placed it on the headstone as he said, ‘Aloha, my son. Aloha.’
Manu shifted from kneeling to sitting cross-legged on the ground, and Elder Balane and I did the same. The name on the headstone read:
Mikela Jonathan Nāpela
March 23, 1980 - March 9, 1992
Manu unzipped his scripture case and pulled something from the pages of his Bible. As he did so, tears filled his eyes. Manu was not afraid to show his emotions, but this cry was different. You could feel his hurt, pain, and sorrow. “Mikela is my oldest son. I still miss him so much,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
I handed Manu a tissue from my back pocket, and he handed me a few pages that had been torn from a 3 x 5-inch spiral notebook and stapled together. “Elder Taylor, will you please read this note aloud?” He asked, sniffing. “I don’t think I will be able to read it clearly.”
I looked at the hand-written note, unsure if I would make it through either. But I couldn’t say no, so I began to read. “Mikela, I am on a bus right now and wanted to write you a letter. I’ve missed you while I’ve been away. I love playing games with you. You’re an amazing son, and I’m very blessed to be your dad.” I had to pause and clear my throat, blinking back tears.
“Thank you for your obedience. I appreciate your help with chores, both inside and outside the house. Thank you for being a good older brother. Thank you also for being a good example for your brother and sister to learn from. They look up to you and like to be included in what you do, and they like when you play with them. You’re a good leader and friend. You’re a good learner, and I enjoy watching you improve and excel as you practice and grow. Basketball is one example of this. Success in basketball is like success in most things. It’s the result of hard work, experience, and hundreds and hundreds of hours of practice. It’s fantastic to see you read your scriptures every day on your own. The scriptures are a tremendous source of spiritual strength and power. Keep up the great work. You will be a great deacon, and you will be a great full-time missionary. Jesus Christ loves you. Jesus was crucified for your sins, and it’s by Jesus’s grace you are forgiven and saved. I Love You! Dad.”
Manu held out his hand as I read the final words, and I handed him back the pages. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “My son never became a deacon,” he said softly. “My son will not serve a full-time mission. He was killed a couple weeks before his 12th birthday. He was hit by a car as he rode his bike around the neighborhood. The day of his 12th birthday was one of the hardest days of my life. The pain was so great, I thought my heart would burst. I wondered if the tears and pain would ever stop.”
The raw emotion on Manu’s face had reduced Elder Balane and me to tears, as well. We sat quietly, listening to his story.
“In the midst of my tears, I heard a voice say, ‘Go to your son’s room and get his scriptures.’” Manu wiped his nose with the tissue I’d given him. “I ignored the voice at first, as I knew entering his room would bring a flood of memories, and with those memories would come more pain and tears. After the third prompting from the Spirit, I slowly walked into his room. As I entered, I saw his scriptures sitting on his desk. His room had remained unchanged in the weeks since his passing, and his scriptures sat where he had last laid them. I sat down at the desk and held his scriptures in my hands. When I unzipped the case and opened it, I found the note you just read serving as my son’s bookmark. Gently laying the opened scriptures on the desk, I read the note. At the bottom of the last page, I saw a message from my son. I had not seen this message before. To see it then. In that moment. It was like my son was with me again. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks as I saw in his handwriting the message, ‘I love you, too, Daddy. I will always love you.’
“I read the words over and over. As I cherished these words from my son, a vision was opened to me. I was blessed to see the joyous reunion that occurred when Mikela was welcomed into the world of spirits with the warm embraces of family and friends who had gone before him. Mikela’s entrance into the spirit world was a celebration, reminding me of the joy we experienced at his birth. After a period of greeting, welcoming, and celebration, I saw family and friends part and bow in reverence as Mikela was approached by a man whom I knew instantly. I was wrapped in the love of the Savior as I watched Him greet my son, saying, ‘Mikela, welcome home.’ He pulled Mikela tightly into his chest. Then He said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things. I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’
“My pain and sorrow were replaced with love and rejoicing. I knew my son was in the arms of his Savior and free from the pain, suffering, and anxieties of life. I knew he was happy and among family and friends. I rejoiced that my son had passed the test of mortality to be crowned with celestial glory.
“After the vision closed, I looked down and saw that the scriptures were open to John, chapter eleven. My eyes fixed on the famous two-word scripture, ‘Jesus wept.’ I read through the rest of the chapter, and the Lord ministered to me. While many have heard the famous scripture ‘Jesus wept,’ few are familiar with the circumstances that caused Jesus to weep. Jesus’s friend, Lazarus became very sick, and Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus to come and be with Lazarus. When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already been in the grave for four days, and many had gathered to comfort Mary and Martha with the loss of their brother.”
Manu looked down at the scriptures in his hands and read, “Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and he saw how the people with her were weeping also; his heart was touched, and he was deeply moved. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, ‘Behold how He loved him!’
“Jesus was deeply saddened by the death of His friend and came to mourn and cry with those who had gathered. A knowledge of the resurrection does not remove the pain of death or the mourning of those loved and lost. ‘Mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love. It is a natural response in complete accord with the divine commandment: ‘Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die.’
“Jesus cried, even though He had a perfect knowledge of the resurrection and knew Lazarus would soon be raised from the dead. For Jesus knows that ‘we can’t fully appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now.’ Jesus came to weep and mourn with His friends. He also came to bring comfort, peace, and hope, declaring, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.’ As I sat at my son’s desk, the Savior came to weep with me as I mourned the loss of my son. He also came to comfort me, strengthen me, and to fill me with His peace and His love. He came to wipe the tears from my eyes. Two weeks later, Elder Russel M. Nelson gave a talk at General Conference called ‘Doors of Death.’ It was as if he was speaking directly to me.”
Manu pulled another paper from his scriptures and read us a portion of the talk by Elder Nelson:
“‘Recently at the funeral of a friend, I visited with two distinguished brothers—former surgical colleagues of mine—whose lovely companions had both passed away. They said they were going through the most difficult period of their lives, adjusting to the almost unbearable loss of their partners. . . Death. . . evokes pangs of sorrow and shock among those left behind. The hurt is real. Only its intensity varies. Some doors are heavier than others. The sense of tragedy may be related to age. Generally the younger the victim, the greater the grief...Life does not begin with birth, nor does it end with death. Prior to our birth, we dwelled as spirit children with our Father in Heaven. There we eagerly anticipated the possibility of coming to earth and obtaining a physical body. Knowingly we wanted the risks of mortality, which would allow the exercise of agency and accountability. . . We regarded the returning home as the best part of that long-awaited trip, just as we do now.
Before embarking on any journey, we like to have some assurance of a round-trip ticket. Returning from earth to life in our heavenly home requires passage through—and not around—the doors of death. We were born to die, and we die to live. As seedlings of God, we barely blossom on earth; we fully flower in Heaven. . . Our limited perspective would be enlarged if we could witness the reunion on the other side of the veil, when doors of death open to those returning home... As a special witness of Jesus Christ, I testify that He lives! I also testify that the veil of death is very thin. I know by experiences too sacred to relate that those who have gone before are not strangers to leaders of this Church. To us and to you, our loved ones may be just as close as the next room—separated only by the doors of death... With that assurance, brothers and sisters, love life! Cherish each moment as a blessing from God.’”
Manu folded up the paper and placed it back into his scriptures. He smiled kindly as Elder Balane and I wiped at our eyes. “Cherish each moment, for we don’t know when the door of death will open,” he said. “Even as painful as death can be, you don’t want to take the pain out of death. For ‘the only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.’ Spend your time on that which is eternal so, when the door of death is open for you or for someone you love, there will be no fear, no despair, and no regrets.”
In The Way of Aloha: Lāna‘i, best-selling author Cameron C. Taylor masterfully weaved ancient Hawaiian history and culture into an inspiring and engaging story set on the beautiful island of Lāna‘i. You will be transported to a tropical paradise for an adventure of a lifetime.
As you visit sacred locations throughout the island, you will be taught by a Hawaiian kahuna the principles for joyful living. You will see why Hawaii is consistently ranked as the least stressed and happiest place in the world. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Hawaiian kahuna unfolds powerful insights into the gospel of Jesus Christ as he illuminates a more excellent way—the way of Aloha—the way of Zion. Learn the principles to create your own island paradise where ever you are. Paradise is not a location. It is a way of life.